Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Good morning, everyone.
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you to discuss the 2017-18 supplementary estimates (C) for Public Services and Procurement Canada, as well as Shared Services Canada. I will also take the opportunity today to highlight the funds that were recently announced in budget 2018.
Joining me today from PSPC are Marie Lemay, deputy minister; Les Linklater, associate deputy minister; Michael Vandergrift, associate deputy minister; and Marty Muldoon, chief financial officer. From SSC we have Sarah Paquet, executive vice-president, and Alain Duplantie, senior assistant deputy minister and chief financial officer.
We are all here to answer your questions.
As committee members know, both departments play important roles in the daily operations of the Government of Canada, delivering high-quality, client-focused services to other federal departments and to Canadians. In these supplementary estimates (C), Public Services and Procurement Canada is seeking an additional $228 million in support of its operations. Of the amount sought, $152 million is for ongoing measures to help stabilize the Phoenix pay system and pay centre service delivery.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again, it's completely unacceptable that our hard-working public servants are not being paid properly. Every day I hear stories of hardships, of anxiety, of stress caused by the failings of our pay system. I hear from and speak regularly with affected public servants from across the country, I read their stories in the news, and I hear regularly from unions about the personal toll this is taking. I hear about the family who had a hard time making ends meeting during maternity leave or the parent who had to tighten his belt during the holidays to buy gifts for his kids. These stories, Madam Chair, are heartbreaking. That is why much of this funding is directed toward services that will enhance support to the public servants experiencing pay problems.
Since Phoenix was launched, we have more than doubled the number of compensation advisers. We will also soon have a hundred more people at our client contact centre, who will be able to provide more detailed information to employees who are calling about pay problems. Currently we are looking at how work is organized so that transactions can be handled more efficiently. At the pay centre we are piloting a new approach that organizes compensation experts and support staff into pods that specialize in specific departments or transaction types, and early results are promising.
We are also investing in technology and improving our systems and processes, with a particular focus on better connecting Phoenix to a patchwork of over 30 government human resource centres.
All this work is being led by an integrated team of senior officials who are taking a whole-of-government approach to stabilizing the pay system. Fixing Phoenix and ending the hardship it imposes on public servants across the government remains my number one priority.
This brings me to my most recent initiative in an effort to further support MPs' and senators' offices in assisting constituents experiencing pay issues. I understand that every MP was emailed this flow chart yesterday, which is entitled “Assisting constituents with pay issues”, a need that was clearly expressed when I last appeared in front of this committee. Yesterday, additional information was sent to MPs and senators providing instructions on how to manage and send constituent pay issues to the appropriate contact. It is important to note that pay issues that are reported, whether through the office of an MP or senator, unions, departments, web forums, or the call centre are assessed by the pay centre. This builds on existing internal processes, and immediate efforts will be made to resolve issues that have the greatest financial impact on an employee.
Madam Chair, when I last met with your committee in late November, we had the opportunity to discuss the full suite of measures designed to bring the pay system to a point of stability, and in the short term reduce wait times and late transactions. Our government is committed to doing whatever it takes to fix this situation, but as I've said, there is no easy or quick fix. We didn't create this problem, but it is ours to fix, and budget 2018 supports our commitment to stabilizing Phoenix and paying our public servants accurately and on time.
To ensure openness and transparency of ongoing costs related to Phoenix, members of this committee have received a document that clearly summarizes the previous government's expenditures and unrealized savings, as well as the funds our government is investing to stabilize the pay system. That's the document that was distributed this morning entitled “Investments in Phoenix”.
As announced on February 27, budget 2018 proposes investments of $431 million to continue making progress on Phoenix issues, including hiring additional staff to support the pay system.
This funding will be largely used to increase capacity, in effect allowing us to bring the number of employees working on pay issues at the pay centre and satellite offices to more than 1,500. This capacity is filling a critical gap that was created when the former government eliminated the jobs of more than 700 compensation experts before launching Phoenix. The impact of this cut has been felt across government, and so additional HR advisers will also be hired within departments to assist employees with payroll issues.
Our immediate goal is to stabilize the pay system to ensure that pay is being provided accurately and on time; however, at the same time we must also focus on a longer-term solution, one that makes better use of modern technology and provides a reliable and efficient pay system for public servants.
That's why budget 2018 proposes to invest an additional $16 million in new funding for the Treasury Board of Canada to work with experts, federal public sector unions, and technology providers on a way forward for a new pay system. Our government is also funding the Canada Revenue Agency—$5.5 million over two years—for processing federal government employees' individual income tax reassessments that are required because of pay issues and for handling inquiries.
Budget 2018 also provides funding for other priorities, including procurement modernization. I would be pleased to return to this committee to discuss our plans and priorities once the main estimates and departmental plans have been tabled.
Turning now to other areas of our mandate, the supplementary estimates (C) for Public Services and Procurement also include some amounts.
It provides $7.9 million to help us better deliver service to pensioners, and $6.9 million to ensure that Parliamentarians and Canadians continue to be served in the official language of choice.
It includes $3.6 million resulting from the disposal of several surplus properties in Quebec and Ontario, which is to be reinvested toward the maintenance of federal buildings.
It provides $12 million in funding to provide accommodation, procurement, interpretation and project management support for the upcoming G7 Summit in the Charlevoix region of Quebec.
An amount of $2.3 million is also provided to improve our contracting processes, provide clarity to businesses, and ensure that federal procurement remains fair and transparent.
An amount of $2.5 million is provided to continue to support online advertising by the government, and $1.1 million to undertake the project definition phase of the West Memorial Building Rehabilitation Project.
I shall turn now to Shared Services Canada.
Through supplementary estimates (C), Shared Services Canada is seeking $24.8 million in additional funding. This includes investments of $16.2 million to support this year's G7 summit. The department is providing information technology-related services to fit up an operations office and regional summit offices. This is in addition to the ongoing work SSC is doing for the G7 to install new cellular towers and upgrade existing towers, as announced last December. While these improvements will enhance summit operations, they will remain of permanent benefit to area residents and businesses.
Shared Services Canada's supplementary estimates (C) also include $3.9 million to support new full-time employees in the government by providing a standard suite of such services as workplace devices, Internet access, and file storage; and $4.0 million in total net transfers from other departments, which will be used for various information technology projects and services.
In budget 2018, significant new funding is proposed for SSC. About $2 billion will be invested over six years to build a modern, secure, and reliable information technology platform for the digital delivery of programs and services for Canadians. This investment will help reset and reinforce core IT services for the Government of Canada.
The budget also provides an additional $110 million over six years to the Treasury Board Secretariat, starting in 2018-19, to be accessed by SSC's customer departments and agencies to help migrate their applications to secure, modern data centres or cloud solutions.
Madam Chair, I am reminded daily of the important work under way in both departments as part of their commitment to excel in government operations and deliver high-quality programs and services that meet the needs of federal institutions and expectations of Canadians.
I want to thank our hard-working employees who bring great dedication to all their tasks.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
We look forward to your questions.
Thank you for your question.
Frankly, it's a very difficult issue that we will not be resolving quickly.
To be honest, this is a very complex file. While we are seeing progress, it is taking time, and it is costing money. In a number of different areas, we are focusing our efforts to ensure that our whole-of-government approach yields tangible, long-term results. This is not just a matter of a software program that isn't functioning. This is a massive business transformation initiative that was not properly scoped or implemented, and we're having to go back to fix things that never should have needed fixing in the first place.
As we work on a more robust governance model, which includes an integrated team, a committee of deputy ministers, and a working group of ministers chaired by the , we are also looking at technological fixes and better integrating our HR systems with the pay system. We are also investing money in hiring people.
At the same time, we recognize—and this is one of the things I've been quite focused on over the past seven months that I've been in this role—the need for supporting employees. Because there is no quick fix, we need to ensure that our public servants get the support they need. This includes access to an emergency salary and access to funds to have assistance in filing their taxes. This also includes better support through our call centre.
As I said in my opening remarks, we'll have 100 more people in our call centre within the next four to six weeks. These call centre employees, who will now be public servants, will have access to individuals' files in a way that they previously did not.
Before, an employee could call the centre and would basically get a ticket and register that they had a question. The call centre employees didn't have access to that person's file. Now they will, and this will make a massive difference in terms of supporting and helping public servants get the answers that they need.
As I said, we are investing significant dollars in fixing—well, I'd probably say stabilizing—Phoenix, and of course we are looking at a longer-term solution that is not Phoenix. As we move forward, my laser focus, as I've come to say, has been on stabilizing the system, ensuring that our 305,000 public servants are paid accurately and on time every two weeks, and that a parallel process is begun to see what the next generation pay service looks like for the Government of Canada. That will take some time. In the meantime, we have to pay people every two weeks.
Welcome back, everyone. It's wonderful to have you back here.
I have to say right off the bat that I'm extremely disappointed in your department.
On November 28, 2017, both yourself and Ms. Lemay promised us by mid-December, within two weeks, that “We will get back to you in two weeks as to what the process will be.”
It's actually been three and a half months. As you can imagine, my party, the NDP, MPs across the country, and the several hundred thousand people affected by Phoenix are not impressed that it's taken you three and a half months, when you promised us two weeks. The system you've come up with is completely inadequate to help people.
One of the ladies I've been dealing with is Sebastianne Critchley. She was on Global News recently. She's been profiled in the National Post. I want to show you this. These are her emails that she has sent to us, and this is double-sided paper. Since I approached Ms. Lemay and Mr. Linklater in November to help her, she sent us about an eight-page letter outlining all of the issues that she's had. She approached me, and I went directly to the very top. Even with the very top people helping, we have a hundred pages of emails from the people in the department unable to help her.
The reason I mention this...and I go back to your new system where all it does for MPs is to tell the staff to go back to your department. If you can't fix it, we'll send a form up to escalate it, and we'll get back to you in two weeks.
These are Ms. Critchley's comments from this morning, “package outline steps to follow”. What happens when we follow those steps repeatedly? Again, these are the steps she has taken, and repeatedly it's failed.
I will ask you again, will your department please help MPs set up a proper process to help those who have been Phoenixed? There are a lot of minor issues that can be handled this way, but there are a lot of very serious issues, people's lives are being destroyed by this system. Simply telling them to go to the MP, and have the MPs send an email to the department, and hope to get back within two weeks is not enough.
Ms. Critchley sent another follow-up note to someone recently. She got a note back three weeks later saying, “We'll start looking into this, I am planning on reviewing this.” This is after three weeks, this is after Mr. Linklater, months ago, started it.
On behalf of those people affected, would you go back and take a serious look at providing resources, and help MPs to help their constituents? This is not a Conservative issue, it's not an NDP issue, it's not a Liberal issue. It's a non-partisan issue of MPs being able to help their constituents.
Simply sending out a form saying “Go to your boss” is not going to cut it. Please go back and review that, and get back to us on how you're going to improve the system. Why did it take three and a half months to get a simple form basically saying, “Go back to what you've already been doing”?
I want to get on to the estimates. You've committed $16 million to find a new system that's going to be going through Treasury Board. The Treasury Board is the same department that had the Gartner report, and sat on it. The Gartner report clearly said Phoenix wasn't ready to go ahead. Treasury Board did not apparently pass it on to PSPC, it sat on it.
This is the same Treasury Board that sat on the comptroller general's report in December that clearly showed the testing across all departments was showing a high failure rate, and Phoenix wasn't ready.
The same Treasury Board that sat on the project status report in December, two months before Phoenix started, said, “Clear the backlog before you go ahead with Phoenix”, the same backlog that the government has identified as the main problem with the Phoenix fiasco. It sat on it.
The same Treasury Board sat in committee in February, and questioned by the NDP and ourselves, said that Phoenix was good, 99% working, otherwise it wouldn't go ahead.
Now, Treasury Board is so complicit and incompetent in this matter, why in the world would we trust Treasury Board to choose a new system to replace Phoenix?
Yes. Hopefully, it doesn't get Phoenixed.
You Phoenixed my case file manager, the lady in my office who helps Phoenix people, people with problems with their pay. She has the same problem now. Thank goodness that in her case it's a minor overpayment and she was able to fix it. In your example, what would she have done? Would she have filled out the form, or would she have come to me as her supervisor?
A lot of people's lives have been screwed up, especially on the T4 issue. This is something that we warned the department and you, Minister, about months and months ago, especially those of us on the finance committee. Something that we members were talking about on a regular basis was that, come tax time, there would be a lot of people who would have serious problems filling out their taxes appropriately.
Another government department, the CRA, is going to take them to town because they also have a track record of customer service excellence, just like your department seemingly has with regard to people with Phoenix problems.
What actual, concrete actions are you going to take? How are you going to get through these issues? You've offered this new program, all this government spending that's going to happen. These individual case files can't seem to get fixed. Mr. McCauley has a lady who has taken time out of her life to try to fix her own problem in detailed format. I have people like that in my office too. Each one of us here has them.
What is it that you're going to do for them? In the case of my employee, thank goodness for her that it's a minor overpayment issue, but you Phoenixed her. She is the case file manager responsible for helping people with Phoenix issues, CRA issues, and immigration files, and she has the same issue.
I think a fundamental difference in the way we're approaching this new process, although I would probably better characterize it as a modified process, is that we are helping get the answers we need to move things forward. We would hear from MPs' offices that an individual works for a certain department that isn't serviced by the pay centre. That inquiry isn't going to follow the same path as if it were a department or agency serviced by the pay centre.
Now we've set out a three-step process that determines where the individual works and whether it is serviced by the pay centre, what the exact nature of the issue they're experiencing is—we would get issues around, say, technological things, such as “I can't access Phoenix”, which actually go to the IT section of the department in question—and then determines financial impact in a much more respectful and dignified way.
I've heard feedback from employees that they find it really difficult sometimes to talk to their manager about their personal finances. They feel vulnerable. It feels like something they don't want to talk about at work, and justifiably so. We are giving them space, within the MP confines, to have that conversation in a little more private and dignified way.
Then all of those requests, once it's determined where they work, what the issue is, and what the financial impact is, go to a centralized email system that is operated by one individual, who then is tasked with the quality control piece, making sure that the information is accurate and robust enough—otherwise, there will be a back-and-forth with the MP—and guarantees a response to the MP within 10 days.
We didn't have that before. Before, it used to go to the different regional desks in my office, which meant that different relationships developed with different MPs' offices. Now there is a very clear process in which questions can be asked that will lead to a success.
I'll start with the contact centre, which the minister did mention in her comments. To date we have been operating under a model where our client contact centre has been a contract service, in both Toronto and Ottawa, with individuals who are essentially ticket takers. This was set up following “go-live”, when it became apparent that we were not keeping on top of the number of issues and complaints that the staff had. We wanted to make sure that the staff who were trained in compensation work were focusing on dealing with transactions and allowing the service to provide the outlet for complaints and concerns to be registered.
We've realized over the course of the last couple of years that we need to ensure that employees get better service with their first call. The idea is to transition from private sector to public sector. We're more than halfway there in terms of providing new public servants who are brought on specifically for this function to have training on the various systems that are related to pay and compensation. When employees call, they're not just leaving their name, their PRI, and the nature of their issue. They're actually talking to someone who has access to the system, can see where their transactions are, and can provide them with an update in terms of where things are in the system. They won't be able to resolve them, but they'll be able to provide more information than has been the case to date. We feel that will be a bit of a game-changer in terms of client service for staff.
On the technological front, as you know, our vendor is IBM. They have been the project integrator over the course of the last number of years. They are still under contract with us for in-service support until June of 2019. We have moved from a task authorization basis with the contract—i.e., we give them a piece of work, they go and do it, they bring it back, and we sign off or not—to a managed service arrangement on both the technical and functional piece. IBM is taking on more of the risk and responsibility for solving problems without the government prescribing how they get to that solution. They are taking on more of the risk and more of the routine running of pay—365 days, 24 hours a day—and that frees up our crown resources to focus on the more higher-value technical fixes, functional fixes, that will bridge some of the inefficiencies we have.
At the same time, we're looking at improving the training, the mandatory training that's been released by the Treasury Board. We also have a claims office that's up and running whereby people who are out of pocket as a result of Phoenix are able to make claims for reimbursement. We also offered, both last year and this year, up to $200 for tax services to individual employees who were looking for outside third party help to assist them with completing their taxes.